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Monday, August 31, 2009

Oldie but a Goodie

For lunch this week I opted for something seriously old school - Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. I needed a break from everything else, and I wanted something easy and on the cheap.

I completely forgot how good a PB&J 'wich is. For my PB&J's I chose Jif creamy peanut butter (I actually use to be a crunchy girl, but now lean I towards creamy) and Smucker's Red Raspberry Jam which is so good - kinda sweet and very tasty. Bread was Nature's own Butter bread. I would have preferred wheat, but BD hates wheat and it just doesn't make sense to buy two loaves of bread.

No wonder I loved these things as a kid.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What pasta is best?

I stumbled across this article today. It was one of those days when one article caught my attention, which lead to another article, which referred to another article, and before I knew it - an hour had gone by.

This article however was by far the most interesting. It's about pasta and what each shape is best for what kind of purpose or sauce. I'm definitely going to refer to it in the future when brainstorming new recipes.

Click here to read the article from Chow

Kitten ^..^

Football Season is Here: Queso con Carne

I attempted a new appetizer last night. I was trying to think about some great party appetizers in preparation for Labor Day, BD’s 30th birthday, and football season. I knew I wanted something that wouldn’t be overly complicated, time-consuming, and it needed to be a crowd pleaser for sure.

I’d never made a queso dip before (though I have eaten more than my fair share of them), so I decided to give it a go. I figured it would be especially great when I have about 30 grown men drinking and swearing at my TV in the upcoming months while watching a game.

Queso con Carne
*This recipe made a LOT – much more than I anticipated. If you are serving this with a couple of other appetizers you could easily serve 20-25 people. If it’s the only appetizer -maybe 10-15.

- 2 – 32oz processed cheese blocks, cubed
- 2 10oz cans of Rotel, drained
- 1.5 lbs of ground beef
- ¼ cup of minced onion
- ¼ cup of chopped scallions
- 1 tablespoon onion power
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1+ tablespoon of crushed red pepper
- S&P


1 - Over medium high heat brown ground beef with the onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, paprika and 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper. Once fully cooked drain off fat and set aside.

2 -In a large dutch oven, add onion and Rotel. Sauté for a couple of minutes and then drain off excess liquid.

3 -Add back to pot and add in the cheese. Stir until smooth and all the lumps are gone.

4 -Add ground beef and stir to incorporate. Add S&P to taste.
*** At this point I tested the mixture to see what the heat/spice level was. I wanted a lot more kick than it was giving so I added a couple more tablespoons of crushed red pepper little by little until I got the amount of heat I wanted.

5- Right before serving, add the chopped scallions and stir. For serving, I would recommend using a slow cooker or fondue set to keep the dip warm.

I was feeling rather ambitious the day I was making this and decided to make my own chips as well. They turned out pretty good and were easy to make, but a little time consuming. Honestly I decided to do them because I had nearly a whole package of uncooked corn tortillas in my freezer that I was probably never going to use otherwise.

Homemade Chips

1 - The tortillas were on the smaller side for I cut them into fours.

2 – Next I fried in vegetable oil over medium-high heat.

3- I only did a few at a time and made sure to flip them once during the frying. I used a small sauce pan because I didn’t have a ton of veggie oil on hand.
4- Once they had a light brown color, I removed them from the oil and place on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to cool and then sprinkled with a little salt.

I liked how they turned out. Light, crispy, and worked well for my queso. However, after frying them I suspect that my corn tortillas weren’t entirely corn and had a little flour in them as well. Still, they were pretty tasty and I will definitely try to make them again.

My thoughts: I really, really, loved the queso. It was really cheesy and had just the right amount of other ingredients. Not only was this good for flavor reasons but it also was important for dipping. As BD said, it had the right consistency and you were able to get a little bit of everything in each bite. I was glad that I added more crushed red pepper near the end because I like things with a bit of a kick. I ate quite a lot more of this than I would like to admit too… so let’s just say that I didn’t have any room left for dinner that night.
Kitten ^..^

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yo quiero Quesadillas!

I have a deep love for Mexican food. A better word might even be addiction; I have an addiction to Mexican food. The other night I rifled through my fridge and pantry and discovered that I had all the necessary ingredients for Veggie Quesadillas. I’m a fan of the homemade quesadilla, much more so than ordering them in a restaurant because when you make them at home you get to choose what you want in them and the possibilities are endless.

A while back I use to be afraid of making them, but once I learned how easy it can be I make them at least once a month.

Veggie Quesadillas
- Any veggies you want! I chose: red bell pepper, green bell pepper, mushrooms, onions, and spinach
- Cheese
- Large flour tortillas
- Vegetable oil

* I can’t really give you exact measurements because that is all up to you. Below is the method of how to go about making them.

1 -Sauté your veggies until al dente. FOOD 411: Al dente means “to the bite”, it refers to that tender yet crisp phase of vegetables but is more commonly used referring to paste.
2 -Heat a large sauté to medium heat and pour just enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the tortilla on the pan.
3 -Add a layer of cheese all over the tortilla but leave about a half inch perimeter from the edge. Next scatter some of your veggies all over the tortilla. You can add as much as you like but don’t worry about covering every inch with vegetables.
You’ll be folding it in half. (See picture) Even though I didn’t overload mine with veggies, I still ended up with a ½ inch thick quesadilla.
4 -Once the cheese start to melt slightly, take a pair of tongs and fold the tortilla in half and press down slightly with a spatula.

5 -After the tortilla has browned slightly on the bottom side, flip over carefully to finishing browning the second side.
6 -Remove from pan and allow cooling for a couple of minutes before slicing.

My thoughts on this dish: I love quesadillas and these hit the spot. They are crispy, melty, and full of tasty veggies. Not to mention quick and not a lot of dishes to clean afterward!

The dipping sauce in the picture is one of my favorite things. It’s Spicy Black Bean Dip from Dessert Pepper Trading Company.

It’s a staple in my fridge at all times; I especially love it on southwestern style scrambled eggs.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Parmesan Pastry Twists

Out of all of the Food Network stars, Paula Deen is probably one of my favorites. She just seems like she would be a joy to be around. I would love to just spend a day sitting on a front porch with her, drinking ice tea, and talking about life. You just know that THAT would be a great day.

While I love Paula Deen and have seen her show hundreds of times, I have never made anything from them. No particular reason why - I just never have. I happened to catch it the other day on a lazy Saturday when I was flipping through channels. I think the show I caught was centered on soup and she happened to make some breadstick to accompany one of them. A week or two later I recreated them to go with a pasta dish I was making. You can find Paula’s recipe here and mine is below.

Parmesan Pastry Twists

- 1 sheet puff pastry
- ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoon oregano
- lots of fresh ground black pepper
- melted butter for brushing – a couple tablespoons


1- After your sheet of puff pastry is thawed, brush with melted butter. Flip and repeat.
2- In a shallow dish mix parmesan, garlic powder, oregano and black pepper.
3- Slice puff pastry in 1 inch slices. I think I got about 8 or 10 from mine.
4- Take one slice of puff pastry and dredge in mixture until well coated. Twist pastry lengthwise and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat until done.
5- Place into a 350 degree oven and bake until golden brown. Mine took about 15 – 18 minutes. Remove and serve.

There are little variations between mine and Paula’s, but not many. This should show you how easy they are because when I did these I did them from memory but wanted to reference her recipe for you here.

My thoughts on this dish: These came out really light, fluffy and with tons of flavor. I was able to taste each of the ingredients separately and they blended really well together. These also looked really impressive and kinda fancy. The boys (BD and HD) were also pretty impressed and loved them. I think you could also cut each strip in half before twisting and baking and they would probably be great for a party served with a side of alfredo or marinara!

Popeye would Approve Sauteed Spinach

When I was a kid I hated spinach, probably like most other kids. I can’t remember when I started to like it, but I believe it was early in my college years and I had some Spinach dip. Now I use it in a lot of dishes. The recipe below is for Sautéed Spinach with pan fried garlic and shaved parmesan. So simple to make and yet is full of flavor.

Sauteed Spinach with Garlic and Parmesan


- 1 lb of fresh baby spinach
- 4 cloves of fresh garlic
- shaved parmesan
- 2 tablespoons of EVOO
- S&P


1- Slice each garlic clove thin length-wise and sauté over medium heat until a light golden brown. Takes maybe 5 minutes. Be careful not too burn it though!
2- Add spinach and toss until slightly wilted. This takes only a few minutes. Add S&P to taste.
3- Transfer to serving dish and toss in several tablespoons of shaved parmesan.

You’re DONE! It’s that easy. With pan-frying the garlic, it infuses the EVOO which coats the spinach as you toss it. The parmesan will get slightly soft from the spinach, but adds a nice salty-nuttiness to the dish.

My thoughts on this dish: I love spinach now almost anyway you can make it and incorporating it with two of my other favorite ingredients – garlic and parmesan – you get a home run in my opinion. This makes a great side dish for when you’re making pasta, but would like a vegetable on the side rather than a salad. It’s probably even easier than making a salad because you don’t need to cut all the veggies!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vinegar + Ice Cream = Heaven

While I don’t know where I learned about Balsamic Syrup, or how to make it, I can recall the first time I made it. I didn’t tell BD that the chocolate looking drizzle on his ice cream was NOT chocolate. I was afraid if I told him I poured vinegar all over it, he wouldn’t have tried it.

Now, I love to bake but sadly I never seem to have the time. A friend of mine reminded me of this recipe the other day and I thought it would be great to post here. This recipe is as common as how to make Béchamel, but I will post it anyway for easy reference.

Balsamic Syrup

Ingredients:- Balsamic Vinegar (BV)
- Sugar


1- The ratio is: 1 cup of BV to 2 tablespoons of sugar.
2- Add BV and sugar to a sauce pan and bring to a low boil over medium heat.
3- Stirring frequently, reduce by ¾. Once the syrup fully coats the back of a spoon – you’re done!
4- Remove from heat and allow cooling.

How easy is that! The best part about Balsamic Syrup is it is so versatile. Put it on anything you want – fresh fruit, ice cream, cheesecake – sky is the limit.

Heads Up:
- It doesn’t smell fantastic while it’s boiling. Don’t let this detour you from trying it!
- Use it sparingly on food. This syrup has some punch to it and by going heavy-handed with it, you may not be able to taste whatever you put it on.
- if you don’t use it all, just keep it in the fridge. It will be fine for a while.

Tonight I did one of my favorite little midweek desserts. I love this one because it’s easy and doesn’t take a lot of time. Plus for some reason, it just sounds decadent to me. Vanilla bean ice cream with fresh strawberries and a balsamic syrup drizzle. I imagine myself sitting in a little sidewalk bistro on a summer night with a cool breeze as the waiter gives me the dessert specials for the night….
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Strawberries and Balsamic Syrup

My thoughts on this dish: I love this. It doesn’t really make you feel like your being “bad” for eating ice cream. The creamy ice cream with sweet strawberries and the tangy, yet almost velvety-chocolate tasting balsamic syrup is simply heavenly. Everything balanced each other out, and at the same time highlighted the other ingredients. I made this tonight and I wasn’t even hungry but I said I would have a few bites. I ended up eating the whole bowl without thinking twice.

Great Idea FAIL

After a long day at the beach, BD, myself, and HD (HD is our new roommate and coincidently, BD’s brother) had our first joint venture in the kitchen. HD had a really lovely beef tenderloin that he marinated all day and later grilled; BD did a crab and shrimp scampi; and I contributed Au Gratin Potatoes. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves that night. I can’t think of a better way to savor the last few hours of a weekend than with some really great food.

I was attempting to create a recipe to post for the Au Gratin Potatoes that night. While they were good, they weren't a knock out just yet. So rather than posting a recipe that I know I will be tweaking, I’m going to hold off for now. It will be worth the wait – I promise. In the meantime, here is a picture of them.

Believe it or not, we had a pretty decent amount of steak leftover. Therefore we planned on making steak sandwiches on Monday night for dinner. BD and I had come across a horseradish cheddar cheese a couple of weeks ago and had been trying to come up with a dish to use it in. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The plan was to take the steaks and top them with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and the cheese on some French bread. It sounded awesome, and it could have been awesome….but it was a bust.

I’m posting this because one thing I’ve noticed with several food blogs is that everything is always perfect. That is not always the case in my kitchen – I screw up plenty. Plus, one of the purposes of starting this blog is to further expand my culinary talents, knowledge, and interests. How can I do that without trial and error?

So. Why did I think this sandwich was a bust? I honestly, blame two things: 1- not enough ingredients, and 2- the bread. I don’t know how I always do this but when it comes to caramelizing onions or sautéing mushrooms, I always underestimate how small the shrink. I need to remind myself that it’s sneaky like spinach. You may THINK you have a whole mess of it, but you really don’t. Also, BD wanted to go easy on the cheese. He was afraid the horseradish would overpower everything. In the end, I couldn’t taste the cheese at all. As for the bread, it just wasn’t the right choice. Perhaps if we had toasted it first it might have worked better.

Even though this sandwich overall was not a winner, it did have some good points. The onions, mushrooms, and steak all worked together….but how could they not? So with a little more tweaking this one may eventually be a winner.

Kitten ^..^

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Everything is Better with Roasted Garlic Butter

Roasted Garlic is probably a gift from the “gods above”. It is simply divine. Near the start of our relationship, BD and I were doing surf and turf at home - filets, king crab, loaded baked potatoes, and I think we also made prosciutto-wrapped asparagus that night as well. There wasn’t any real occasion…it was simply what we were in the mood for. I remember we had one of the best cuts of filet I’ve ever had. It was pricey when we bought it, but worth every penny.

For whatever reason that night, I suggested making Roasted Garlic Butter for on top of the filets. I know I must have seen it somewhere – probably the Food Network – but I can’t remember where exactly now.

I’m not going to call this a recipe, but below is how you can make roasted garlic butter. It’s super easy and tastes so yummy on steaks, potatoes, veggies….almost everything!

Roasted Garlic Butter

- Head of Garlic
- Butter

1- Slice the very top of the garlic off so that the cloves are exposed.
2- Place on a sheet of foil and drizzle some EVOO over the top of the head.
3- Wrap foil around garlic and place in the oven at 350 for 35-45 minutes. (Your nose will know when it’s done)
4- Allow to cool and then unwrap foil carefully.
5- Take bulb and squeeze the roasted garlic from the bulb and into a dish.

6- Mash garlic until smooth. Then add 4 tablespoons of butter* and mix together.

7- Place in fridge or freezer to set for at least 10 minutes.

* This gives you a fairly strong garlic flavor. If you want it a little less potent add more butter until you achieve the amount of flavor you desire.
Kitten ^..^

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Be Crabby Cakes!

Crab Cakes can be very temperamental. You have to get the ingredients just right, cook it to the point of perfection, and then hurry up and eat it before it goes past its prime. I’ve only attempted cooking crab cakes at home once before last night. This was about two years ago and while it wasn’t bad – it wasn’t a great success either. I think last night's attempt went much better. I didn’t reference any other recipes and went with my gut on this one.

Crabby Cakes

- 6oz of picked lump crab
- 4 tablespoons of melted butter (approx – you may need more or less)
- 1 teaspoon of seasoned salt
- ¾ cup of bread crumbs (approx)
- 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
- juice from half a lemon
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons of finely minced red bell pepper
- 3 tablespoons of finely minced onion
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon of garlic powder (optional)
- 2 tablespoons of EVOO
- fresh ground pepper to taste


2. In a medium sized mixing bowl add crab, lemon juice, parsley, seasoned salt, egg and the cooked peppers, onion, and minced garlic. Mix together. (I beat the egg first. It’s an OCD thing. For some reason, I think if I don’t the egg won’t evenly distribute throughout the mixture.) If you want a more prominent garlic flavor add the extra teaspoon of the garlic powder, but if you don’t care for garlic you can omit it.
3. Once that is well combined, add half of the bread crumbs and half of the butter. Mix together and slowly add the rest until you get the mixture where it’s not flaky but not overly wet. You want it to be moist so that it sticks together. You may not need to use all of the butter and bread crumbs. (NOTE: I used Italian bread crumbs because that is what I keep on hand. Plain would be fine)
4. Once you’ve reached the desired consistency take a portion of the mixture and form it into a patty. My cakes were about 1.5” in diameter and about ½” thick. In order to make them uniform, I first make the mixture into a little ball that fits in the palm of my hand and then slowly flatten them out. I was able to make 5 with my palm. Once you’re patties are made place them in the fridge to set for about 10-15 minutes.
5. In a medium sauce pan, add equal parts of butter and EVOO. About 1 tablespoon each. Over medium to medium-high heat, add your crab cakes and pan fry until golden brown and crisp. Mine took about 4 minutes. Then flip (carefully) and repeat.
6. Serve immediately!

*This made recipe made 5 medium crab cakes and served two of us.

My thoughts on this dish: From what I can recall this attempt was defiantly better than my last. The outside had a nice crust and the inside hot and soft. I thought the ratio of crab to other ingredients was just about right. While you do want the crab to be the dominant flavor, you also want it to have a little more depth. I think I was able to accomplish that this time. I felt the peppers and onions added a lot of flavor to the cake and the garlic played nicely in the background.

Crab Cake Sauce

I have no idea what else to call this. This recipe is derived from one I saw Sam the Cooking Guy use one episode. It looked tasty, and I thought something similar would be nice for the crab cake rather than just plain old tarter sauce. After tasting it, I think it would pair nicely with other kinds of seafood as well.

(print recipe)
- 3oz of plain Greek yogurt (you could use any plain yogurt)

- 1 tablespoon of capers
- 1 teaspoon of dill
- Juice of half a lemon
- pepper

1. In a small mixing bowl add the yogurt and lemon juice, and whisk together until smooth.
2. Add the capers and dill. * I didn’t roughly chop the capers but probably will the next time so they are more evenly distributed and the sauce looks smoother. Add the dill as well. I did this little by little to make sure I got the amount of dill flavor I wanted.
3. Lastly add some black pepper. Allow to set in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

My thoughts on this dish:
When I first tried it before placing it in the fridge I was a little scared - I’m not gonna lie to you! It didn’t taste like what I had hoped for; little too tart and tangy. But instead of ust tossing it, I let it sit in the fridge while I made the crab cakes. I figured I would try it anyway once they were done to see how they might pair with the cakes. That’s when the magic happened. After sitting in the fridge for a bit, the flavors really blended well together and the tartness reduced. Overall I was really pleased with the end result, and will probably use it on something else in the near future.
The Finale!

Together I thought the sauced paired very well with the crab cakes. It was hard to resist going back for more.
Kitten ^..^

1. In a sauté pan add 1 tablespoon of EVOO, minced garlic, red bell pepper, and onion. Season with S&P and sauté over medium heat until soft. Set aside to cool.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Scream, You Scream...

The other day I had a ravenous craving for come warm chocolate cookies with vanilla bean ice cream. I didn’t fight it – I went to the supermarket. I’ve never cared for regular vanilla ice cream, but vanilla bean is on a whole other level. On my quest I came across Haagen-Dazs’s new Five product line of ice cream. In their commercials they claim that they only use five ingredients. I rarely eat Haagen-Dazs so I decided to give it a try.

I tested it while my cookies were baking in the oven and it turns out – it’s really good. The vanilla bean flavor is really prominent and you can taste the cream. It also has a really smooth and rich flavor as well. I was pleasantly surprised, and in heaven at that point. There is nothing better than getting exactly what you are craving when you are craving it. I plan on trying the other flavors as well at some point.

And I did check the ingredient list and there were only five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla.

Hangover Helper

It’s Saturday morning – well morningish – and we were paying the small price for going out the night before to welcome our new roommate to the house. BD and I were up and trying to decide on what to make for breakfast when our new roommate, HD, strolled into the kitchen and asked what was for breakfast. I think this is where he got a quick crash course in what cooking and eating is like for us on most days. (HD is BD’s brother so he did have some idea having been over for dinner or get-togethers.) I smiled at him and relayed what BD and I had just decided on making: Omelet with shaved steak, sautéed peppers and onions, chipotle cheddar cheese, and crispy fried onions on top. His face was pretty priceless.

BD was kind enough to make breakfast for us while I padded around the house. After what seemed like forever breakfast was finally done, and it was the perfect remedy for what ailed us.

While the dish was pretty delicious, my only complaint was that there could have been more cheese!
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